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Poignant post-war drama in The Rose and the Yew Tree

Well-paced production set in a Cornish seaside town during the general election of 1945 is well worth a listen

27 August, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Agatha Christie

ALTHOUGH best known for her detective novels and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart under the nom de plume of Mary Westmacott.

Set in a Cornish seaside town during the general election of 1945, The Rose and the Yew Tree is a charming and poignant post-war tale about a mismatched couple.

It opens with the dramatic car crash of Hugh Norreys (Richard McCabe), which leaves him in a wheelchair. Hugh comes to stay with his sister Teresa (Selina Cadell). As he sits on her sun terrace, he observes the goings on of the small town and becomes the confidant of various characters.

Britain is on the cusp of major change. Teresa and her friends are busy lobbying and organising fundraising events for the Conservative party and its working class, opportunistic parliamentary candidate, John Gabriel (Toby Jones). He’s brusque, coarse, a womaniser and partial to a drink. Although Churchill fails to be re-elected as PM, Gabriel wins his seat.

Beautiful and aristocratic, Isabella Charteris (Ioanna Kimbook) is betrothed to her cousin, Rupert St Loo (Stephen Critchlow) a returning war hero. They appear to be the perfect couple. But Isabella’s head is turned by Gabriel with tragic consequences.

Admittedly it’s difficult to compress a novel into 45 minutes, but the motivations of the two lovers remain frustratingly elusive in Malcolm McKay’s adaptation. One finds it hard to believe Isabella would throw in her lot with a man as transparent as Gabriel.

He exhibits few redeeming features other than having the guts to throw in his career for her.

Teresa tries to explain their doomed affair with a line from TS Eliot’s poem Little Gidding:

“The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

Are of equal duration.”

Despite my minor reservations, it’s a pleasurably old-fashioned drama and there’s plenty to admire in Catherine Bailey’s well-paced production.

The dialogue is spot on – especially the bitchy asides – and it’s beautifully acted. Well worth a listen.

  • BBC Radio 4, September 1, 2.15pm

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